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Hegemonic Empire

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You know the typical portrayal of The Empire? Militaristic, totalitarian, imperialist, all-powerful and massively dysfunctional. The sort of empire where Big Brother Is Watching and ruling his occupied provinces with an iron fist, blatantly eradicating all sorts of dissent through mass executions, concentration camps, indiscriminate incarcerations, and indefinite detentions. Well, this is not that Empire. This Empire works a bit differently.

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"Hegemony" is an indirect form of imperial dominance where the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. A Hegemonic Empire doesn't need to rule through its military. It doesn't need to remove and rewrite facts. It has no need to believe a contradiction or destroy the vocabulary. At the same time, it can do all of these, sometimes a bit more subtly. A Hegemonic Empire dominates through attraction, absorption, enthrallment and sometimes Bread and Circuses. Only towards its "enemies" does it utilize coercion, extortion and indoctrination. Common subordinate nations include protectorates, colonies, supported dictatorships, mini-states (designed to reflect their interests as a supposedly independent nation), occupied territories (where they'll force the natives to basically leach off their invaders' resources to survive), satellite states and puppet governments. Often, these loosely-united empires may function as a form of Multiple Government Polity, as the territories acquired in this manner often retain their previously-held legal traditions and forms of government.

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A Hegemonic Empire maintains control by making other people want to be part of it, typically by Rule of Cool and being the lesser of two evils. Therefore, it justifies all of its potential infringements in civil liberties or human rights as Necessarily Evil.

In more extreme cases, their cultural beliefs, values and perceptions will influence, manipulate and dominate the societies of a large number of states that might be "officially" beyond their reach on paper. Imposed as the societal norm, their culture is perceived as a universally valid ideology and status quo beneficial to all of society, symbolized by their language being one of the most commonly spoken in The Verse. A Hegemonic Empire isn't necessarily a People's Republic of Tyranny, but it could well be a rejuvenated empire, revived from a Vestigial Empire, The Remnant or even Peace & Love Incorporated, and essentially remaining the same as ever, just more subtle in its imperialism.

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Whenever the Hegemonic Empire faces a situation where they have to get more hands-on (like the occupied territories), it's not just that the smaller countries are dealing with a Superpower in a direct, country to country struggle; the Superpower meddles in their affairs, corrupts and barters and plays with them, and just flat-out won't let them run themselves. The bureaucratic administration of a Hegemonic Empire can vary; it may be The Republic, The Federation, The Good Kingdom or even The Alliance.

Although a Hegemonic Empire practices soft-power methods, it never means that the empire cannot be evil, corrupt, or at the very least A Lighter Shade of Grey, nor does it mean that the empire is incapable of wielding hard power when provoked.

The concept of a Cultural or Diplomatic Victory in 4X games is often intended to represent this. Economic Victories are also a variant of this — you might not dominate culturally, but your economy is so strong and influential that anyone trying to attack you would find their economy crippled and their industries failing.

Also counts as a Meaningful Namehegemony is Greek for "leadership/rule". Compare Voluntary Vassal, a province that joins a traditional conquering empire of its own accord (which is standard procedure for a hegemonic one).


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Familiar of Zero: Romalia also utilizes a different sort of hegemony over Halkegenia, a continent that consists of five independent nations (Albion, Gallia, Germania, Romalia, and Tristain). Romalia is relatively weak militarily, and it often remains neutral (such as when Albion declared war on Tristain), but the Romalian Emperor, by exerting control over the church, can nonetheless override the other rulers' decisions.
  • Kuromukuro: Efidolg is a multiracial, overarching interstellar empire that uses coercion, Mind Control, and cloning to control the planets it conquers. There are no single species that can be called "Efidolg", rather it uses all the races it controls in its ranks, with some twisted chivalry and something akin Klingon Promotion being hinted as a social advancement mechanism. However, due to the expendable nature of the invading clone armies (they're all executed after a successful mission), it's implied that the automated fleet is an unstable swarm that swears loyalty and delivers resources to the Efidolg home planet but cannot be directly controlled or ruled by anyone.

    Comic Books 
  • Star Wars Legends: When Jagged Fel becomes Emperor of the Imperial Remnants, he launches the "Victory Without War" campaign expanding through an "Imperial Mission" that provides aid to planets ruined by the most recent galactic war. It continues until his grandson's reign when the Sith pull a coup. It then resumes when his great-granddaughter restores the Empire, before they reorganize into The Federation.
  • X-Men: The Shi'ar Empire is said to expand through "shotgun weddings", using the threat of force to turn others into allies rather than actual force to subjugate them.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm: Asgard is this in respect to the Nine Realms, albeit with a light touch since they don't actually want or need anything from the rest of the universe. As a result, they only really get involved if someone's mucking around with one of the other Realms, or one of the other Realms is mucking around with another (Jotunheim screwing with Earth led to the Asgard-Frost Giant Wars), with a general policy best summed of 'don't make us come down there (because we can kick the crap out of you and you know it)'. This attitude hasn't been entirely consistent over time, with some periods, like Bor's rule, where Asgard largely ignored various realms, and others hinted at when it ruled a much more conventional (and huge) empire. Under Odin, however, Asgard tends to keep a gimlet eye on the affairs of the Nine Realms and make a statement where required. This is pretty much the only reason that the likes of the Kree, the Skrulls, the Shi'ar and other would-be powers have left Earth alone.
  • Evangelion 303: This is how Seele sees the USA: an unrestrained imperial war machine and an overbearing international police organization that rules over the world like the only and unchallenged superpower. The Black Project Evangelion is started to prevent its plan to finish with what they call "the American Empire" once and for all.
  • King of Kings, Ruling over Rulers: The magical Roman Empire is one of these, possessing sovereignty over the vast majority of the wizarding world, excluding the small quantity of territories that are controlled by the International Confederation of Wizards.
  • Nobledark Imperium: Unlike its canon self, which typically expands through military subjugation of human nations and extermination of alien ones, the Imperium prefers to expand through diplomacy. First contact with new polities is typically followed by attempts to establish diplomatic relationships, with the intent of drawing the new group fully into the Imperial fold. This is typically achieved through a combination of perks from doing so, such as access to the Imperium's immense industrial base, its trade networks and the protection of its armies, contrasted with the danger of trying to survive in the darkness of the far future alone. Even so, the Imperium doesn't really press reluctant nations to join, mainly because it's been around for a very long time and is willing to play the long game, and gives joining states a great degree of autonomy, provided that they pay its tithes and don't try to leave.
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: This has been Equestria's modus operandi for several centuries. After she'd secured what she felt she needed in the way of resources, defensive borders, etcetera, Princess Luna switched to extending power via her exarchies. These are a number of realms (currently there are six) that owe fealty to Luna in some way or other but are otherwise self-governing, providing Equestria with strategic depth and additional ponypower and resources without the need to actually go to the trouble of running these regions. In Crisis on Two Equestrias, this is contrasted to canon Celestia's approach, who instead focuses on bringing all pony nations and cultures under a single unified government. Even then, this Equestria expands fairly peaceably; Celestia's usual approach is to gradually build up good relationships with independent pony nations and keep things that way until such a time as they wish to formally integrate into Equestria, usually as a result of asking her to step in to resolve some major crisis.
  • An Empire of Ice and Fire: Jon and Daenerys eventually declare the formation of the Targaryen Empire, which lays claim to all Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the city-states of Slaver's Bay (which is renamed New Valyria), and the Dothraki Sea. The semi-autonomy of these constituent kingdoms is duly noted and recognized by the new Imperial couple. During the epilogue, they also add the True North (as the Free Folk reclaim their lands, while pledging loyalty) as a full territory, while also using a mix of negotiation and threats (when necessary) to turn the Free Cities and Naath into client states/protectorates.

    Literature 
  • A Memory Called Empire: While the Teixcalaanli Empire is still a militarily expansionist power that annexes lesser nations by force, far more importantly it's the currently dominant cultural centre of humanity. Teixcalaan language, culture and trade goods has been exported from the heart of the empire to its neighbours and rivals, to the extent that it ultimately colonizes and dominates people without firing a shot. Mahit, the protagonist, is a massive Fangirl of Teixcalaan culture and knows almost as much, if not more, about Teixcalaan protocol than the culture of her own home.
  • Aeon 14: The Scipio Empire is an oligarchy full of political intrigue, but Empress Diana genuinely tries to do right by her people, starting with having overthrown and killed her tyrannical father. Notably, power is intentionally divided between herself and four prelates, who have enough power between them to overthrow her if they have to. (She had planned to call for elections, but a Civil War led her to declare herself empress instead.)
  • Cannon Fodder: The Norgolian Empire. While definitely an empire and definitely expansionist, they're pretty fair to their own citizens.
  • The Culture: The Culture engages in covert social engineering missions on other planets and civilizations to help them see the benefits of joining the Culture.
  • Dark Shores: The Celendrial Empire. First and foremost, it's highly efficient in laws, logistics, taxes and warfare. And while it has conquered the whole continent, it does not really oppress anyone, as long as they obey the laws, pay the taxes and send their second sons to the legions. However, under the leadership of power-hungry Cassius as consul it may be heading straight into The Empire territory.
  • Discworld: Ankh-Morpork used to be the more traditional type of Empire, but economic dominance was more sustainable. The city-state only directly controls a small portion of land, but its economic influence throughout the continent is almost limitless, and its production is so great no one dares invade for fear of being deprived of the very tools needed for invasion. It's also the center of all information trade, giving unequaled political clout in the region.
  • Elantris: This is how the current iteration of the Fjordell Empire works. Centuries ago, Fjorden was a traditional empire, but it was unable to hold onto its military conquests and eventually fell apart. Fjorden's current rulers dedicated to expanding their power through cultural and religious dominance instead, and are successful enough that, despite being small when looked at on a map, their nation has gained effective control over more than half of the continent of Opelon. Having their emperor also be the head of the Derethi church helps, since it means that people who convert to Shu-Dereth are technically answerable to the Fjordell government regardless of national affiliation.
  • Eldraeverse: The Empire of the Star prefers to operate in various versions of this way, having noticed long ago that conquering people who don't want to be — and keeping them conquered afterwards — is expensive and problematic, whereas if you can make them want to join up, the whole conquering thing becomes somewhat superfluous, expansion-wise.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The Star Empire of Manticore is heading in this direction in the later novels, having acquired a certain taste for expansionism and imperialism, but still remaining The Good Kingdom/The Republic good guys they started as. At the same time, Solarian League, despite quite obviously cracking at the seams, is still it big time.
    • The Anderman Empire was always this. Gustav Anderman I's first conquest, Kuanyin, was overjoyed to have him, because they were in the midst of a worldwide crop failure and he was rich enough from his merc days to hire a cadre of scientists to cure the blight that was causing it.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • The Empire Novels:
      • The Stars Like Dust: Tyranni is a relatively small empire of some fifty worlds, who are presented in a villainous light, although not entirely unsympathetic.
      • Pebble in the Sky: Territories within the Galactic Empire are allowed at least some degree of self-governance, especially Earth, which is ruled by the Society of Ancients.
      • The Currents Of Space: The Trantorian Empire (the polity that would become the Galactic Empire) is large enough and powerful enough to buy out a planet and arrange for the evacuation of the entire human population thereof. At this point, the Galactic Superpower doesn't need to go to war to conquer other planets; they can simply purchase them.
    • Foundation Series:
      • The Galactic Empire, based on The Roman Empire, contains the entire galaxy. At least, that's how it starts, as the Foundation series is about its collapse, recycling ideas from Edward Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. The edges collapse first, as the distant local governments declare themselves independent from the empire.
      • This series tracks as the Encyclopedia Foundation becomes larger and absorbs nearby interstellar nations while the Galactic Empire decays and collapses. Dr Asimov's Empire is explicitly modeled on The Roman Empire, so the Foundation resembles the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-centered "Eastern Roman Empire" that lasted a thousand years longer — but not exactly, as the Foundation is set up specifically to reestablish the Empire within a single millennium. By preserving knowledge of advanced technology, they gain religious dominance over their nearest neighbors. Then by using trade and economics, they further spread their influence. Leaving aside a temporary and extremely unlikely setback, it keeps evolving through multiple policies as the Foundation grows across the galaxy.
  • Ender's Game: While the One World Order is called the Hegemony, it is more in the vein of a necessary evil: there's a Bug War happening and someone needs to take control. At the end of the Ender's Shadow series, Peter Wiggin replaces it with the Free People of Earth, which governments opt into voluntarily and are only allowed to opt into voluntarily. It works, at least for a while (supposedly it collapsed somehow and was replaced with the Starways Congress of the later Ender books).
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen: The titular empire was formed mostly by way of military conquest, but its constituent states have all mostly realized that remaining in the Empire means not constantly feuding with neighbors. In Assail, a character lampshades the fact that from the perspective of the common people, the Malazan Empire is no more corrupt than the old regimes and it offers the poor opportunities they never had before. The empire is mostly a meritocracy and thus a peasant from a backwater community like him can rise up in its ranks as far as his talent and luck will allow him.
  • Quarters: Havalkeen is one of these. There's a mention early in No Quarter that the reason the Army plans to use Bannon and Vree to assassinate a rebellious governor is to avoid the casualties, both friendly and civilian, that would be incurred via The Siege or by Storming the Castle. The Empire's Marshal states that the Empire gives "a promise of peace, order, and good government."
  • Starsight: The Superiority is one. They maintain only a very minimal military (in part because they have an extreme culture-wide aversion to violence or aggressive behavior of any kind), and instead maintain power by virtue of being the only ones who know how to make FTL drives that won't attract the delvers. They don't have to conquer worlds that refuse their commands, just cut them off from the wider galaxy.
  • The Tamuli: The Tamul Empire conquers other countries by usually only needing the threaten war, as it has one of the finest fighting forces in the world in the shape of the Atans, a people who through centuries of selective breeding are the biggest, strongest and most skilled soldiers ever. It then exercises authority through the existing power structures, doesn't interfere with the existing culture, religion customs or social order, imposes minimal extra taxes and the only real rule it enforces is banning war between provinces. Not for nothing are the Tamuli known in universe as "history's finest imperialists" (despite their empire being more-or-less accidental — the Tamuli didn't set out to conquer the continent, the Atans swearing themselves to them just meant that all those relatively minor squabbles that neighbouring nations have tended to end up with Atans in the the neighbour's capital and the Tamuli having another province in their empire). They don't even punish revolutionaries — if revolutionaries appear in a province they take this as a clear indication that something has gone seriously wrong in the local governance and will usually offer the job to the revolutionaries — who will discover that this is a poisoned chalice as no-one likes the provincial government!
  • The Traitor Baru Cormorant: The Imperial Republic of Falcrest, by its own words, never conquers anyone, because military conquest breeds diseases and discontent, and is highly wasteful besides. Despite being the known world’s foremost naval power, Falcrest prefers slower but more efficient methods of economic and cultural domination in its bid to Take Over the World: trade monopolies to seduce countries with wealth and render them economically dependent, schools to give foreign children high educations and indoctrinate them with Falcresti values, vaccinations prioritized to particular groups after first contact inevitably causes plagues... and while that's happening, Falcrest is using spies and hostages to destabilize things behind the scenes so that they can heroically step in and provide aid to the poor, suffering natives, which of course will require further occupation — with their consent, of course. What the Romans Have Done for Us is discussed, as there's no way to separate the terrible things Falcrest does to its provinces (criminalization of old customs and mutilation of offenders, eugenics programs, suppression of native cultures, etc.) from the genuinely good ones (improved education, engineering, sanitation, etc.) The Monster Baru Cormorant further shows that there’s nothing stopping them from pulling out of a territory if they decide it’s no longer profitable, and after having made themselves indispensable to the locals, leaving makes things go to hell.
  • The Witchlands: The Cartorran Empire has mostly expanded through marriages, alliances, and enticing vassals with treaties of protection. They've only begun to turn into conquerors very recently, as there are simply no more countries willing to ally with them left.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda: The Vedran Empire was the more traditional type until non-Vedran species began to vastly outnumber the founders and it evolved into the Systems Commonwealth. When it contacted humanity thousands of years after becoming a constitutional monarchy, we joined voluntarily.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Eddington accuses the Federation of being this, even going so far as to compare them to the Borg.
    • Star Trek: Discovery: This a major concern of T'Kuvma's. He fears that peaceful coexistence with the Federation will lead to the eradication of the Klingons' warrior culture, and starts a war to unify the rest of his race against this threat.
    • The Dominion is a more sinister take on this; to start with, the Founders are very restrictive and totalitarian, and genetically engineer client species to roles in society (also brainwashing them into considering the Founders gods). They use the Vorta as the "carrot", diplomats who promise untold riches and prosperity to races who join the Dominion willingly. If that doesn't work, they send in the Jem'Hadar to force them to join or die.
    • The Klingon Empire seems to operate this way, especially in the TNG era. Personal freedoms are fairly pervasive and military conquest was rare, and overall Klingons default to problematic allies. This briefly changes during the latter half of Gowron's reign, but appears to be back on track by the end of Deep Space 9.
    • Arguably The Federation is that they are also this.
    • In "A Piece of the Action" Kirk portrays the Federation as one to the Iotians, if only because they cannot conceive of any form of government other than organized crime based on 1920s Chicago. After stunning all the other bosses from orbit Kirk puts the two bosses who cooperated with him in charge of the planet and demands a cut of their take for the Federation (to reinvest in planetary development) and warns them that if they don't keep the peace there might be another "intervention." Very much like the Romans.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Anima: Beyond Fantasy: The Empire of Abel is fueled by this trope, especially before it broke up, letting each nation (which were all those human in the world of Gaïa) under its control to have its own governments, etc.
  • Battletech: The Terran Hegemony turned into this when it peacefully integrated the Inner Sphere, making all the Great Houses part of a united political entity and founding the Star League with the Hegemony's leader its "first among equals". Subverted when the Star League tried to extend their hegemony to the major Periphery realms and the Periphery realms refused, as the League replied with a war of conquest that lasted twenty years and all but razed the Periphery states to the ground. This war would eventually sow the seeds of the Star League's destruction, as the heir of one of the forcefully subdued Periphery nations eventually caused the League's destruction two century later when he murdered all remaining members of the Hegemony's ruling family in a coup and started a 14 year civil war.
  • Exalted: The Realm technically only consists of the Blessed Isle. The rest of its domains are either colonies or client states which have their own governments, laws and cultures but have to pay tribute to the Realm, recognise the Immaculate Faith as the only true religion, and keep a Dragon-Blooded satrap as "advisor" to the official ruler.
  • GURPS features an example character from an alternate world whose backstory briefly mentions a hegemony founded by Alexander the Great.
  • Lancer: Union was founded as an idealistic attempt to aid humanity's lost colonies after Cradle rebuilt themselves, but then hardline anthrochauvinist elements took over and formed the fascistic Second Committee. The current Third Committee is trying to toe the line between remaining hands-off in the governance of the Diaspora colonies and sending in mechs to clean up SecComm's lingering messes.
  • Mindjammer: The New Commonality of Humankind incorporates the scattered Lost Colonies through a variety of means. Some few worlds are all too happy to join when recontacted, but most resist assimilation in some way. They emplace Mindscape instances enabling access to the Commonality's collective memory, send SCI Force teams to destabilize hostile governments, allow Corporacies to establish branches on world, eventually the planet either joins the Commonality or declares war and gets curbstomped.
  • Pathfinder: In the present setting, the Padishah Empire of Kelesh is in a period of seeing this as an ideal, focusing on commerce, clandestine intelligence activities and portraying Keleshites in a benevolent light. Even during their more militaristic expansionary periods (which some groups in the Empire wish to return to, including the most showcased region of the empire, the satrapy of Qadira — mostly because Qadira wants another go at their arch-enemy of Taldor) some elements of this was present, with the Empire being flexible about incorporating cultures and traditions, and fond of establishing autonomous satrapies.
  • Traveller:
    • The Third Imperium is halfway between one of these and The Empire. It doesn't care much how member planets run things and only gets involved when interstellar trade is disrupted.
    • The Sylean Federation as well, which provided the resources for it to be evolved into the Third Imperium under Emperor Cleon I.
    • The First Imperium initially expanded through economic domination, but the Second was a straight-up military conquest.
    • The Hiver Federation acts like this towards minor races, manipulating them towards space travel and then joining them.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Empire is ruled by a genuinely benevolent Emperor. While there are times when bandits and rebellious lords have to get put down, the armies generally spend their time protecting the Empire from invasion by external forces. Life there is far from nice, but it beats the Hell out of everywhere else in the setting, as you can generally find some sort of job, a place to live, and something vaguely resembling food, and its member provinces and free cities run themselves fairly autonomously — the central Imperial government primarily oversees inter-province disputes, foreign relationships and the military. It's basically a fantasy version of the Holy Roman Empire.
    • The Karaz Ankor has shades of this as well, with each Dwarfhold having its own King, its own Book of Grudges, and generally conducting and minding its own business, but all of them theoretically answer to the High King of Karaz-a-Karak via a complex system of I Gave My Word. Of course, the idea of breaking their oaths to the High King is so antithetical to Dwarfen culture that they might as well be a single unified empire.

    Video Games 
  • Civilization VI: In a cultural victory, your culture is so influential that every other nation has more people visiting yours than vacationing domestically. In a religious one, your nation contains the holy city of a religion that dominates every other nation on the planet. Either way, your rivals cannot move against you without a massive backlash from their citizens, handing you the victory.
  • Dragon Age: In Thedas, Orlais fills the power vacuum that the collapsing Tevinter Imperium left, and it can and will expand through military conquest, but most of its power is derived from its advanced and sophisticated culture, its prosperous economy, the fact that the dominant religion, the Andrastian Chantry, is based in the Imperial capital of Val Royeaux, and the immense, Machiavellian schemes of its nobles and diplomats. It's a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of France during the Ancien Regime, specifically the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV, with more than a little influence from the Holy Roman Empire, the two biggest hegemonic empires for much of European history.
  • Destiny: The Cabal empire used to be this, according to its emperor-in-exile Calus. It was originally a more conventional militaristic empire, but then Calus overthrew its stratocracy, crowned himself emperor, and (supposedly) ushered in a golden age. His policies included expansion by encouraging disparate cultures to mingle into a single smooth blend, using the military as a deterrent rather than a tool of conquest, and a life of abject hedonism for every citizen. Then Calus was overthrown in turn by his protégé Ghaul, who turned it back into a militaristic empire.
  • The Elder Scrolls: The Third Cyrodiilic Empire (ruled by the Septim dynasty) is one of these. While initially forged by the iron fists of the Imperial Legions (with an assist from the Dwemer-crafted Numidium) under the leadership of Tiber Septim, it quickly shifted to a (mostly) benevolent force of good, espousing generally liberal values like religious and racial tolerance while establishing strong diplomatic and mercantile ties between the provinces. Throughout the first four games in the main series, the Septim empire is in dire straights facing numerous threats (both internal and external, supernatural and mundane) and is only held together through the massive schemes of Emperor Uriel Septim VII. By the time of Skyrim, it has completely descended into a Vestigial Empire status, with the few remaining provinces in a very fragile state.
  • Fallout: The New California Republic is a borderline case. They can and have annexed regions by military force, but they prefer to expand through peaceful settlement and through inviting existing frontier settlements to join them. Unfortunately, their delusions of democracy (it's made clear from Caesar's perspective that the NCR was supposed to be a monarchy due to its origins and did well until it began elections) have left the peacefully-annexed regions bloated with corruption from robber barons who ignore the pacifistic military. By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, it is engaged in a three-way (four-way if you go down the Wild Card path) power struggle over control of New Vegas, a very advanced, prosperous, and independent settlement.
  • Mass Effect: The Asari Republics are the cultural and economic superpower in the galaxy, they are the founders and most powerful member of the Citadel Council, their extremely long lives means they are quite willing to be patient and wait for their culture to become omnipresent on its own rather than force the issue, and the codex explicitly compares their early governments to ancient Mediterranean city-states.
  • Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom: Evan's Kingdom of Evermore operates "unites the world" by asking other countries to sign the "Declaration of Interdependence" willingly.
  • Paradox Interactive titles often include mechanics for expanding through peaceful vassalization and annexation.
    • Stellaris has three different types of "subject empire", and players can also form The Federation with other empires, or be opposed by them. The "Federations" DLC specifically adds Hegemony as a variant Federation dominated by one founding member.
    • Victoria: An Empire Under The Sun has the "sphere of influence" mechanic, where countries are integrated into the domestic market and are more willing to accept (or in fact unable to refuse) diplomatic offers, while still nominally sovereign. In exchange, you have to protect them from rebellion and outside aggression. Decisions to unify a region into a larger country (such as Germany, Italy or Scandinavia) also had maintaining a sphere of influence over the other countries to be united as a potentially more peaceful alternative for being available to conquest or establishing puppet regimes.
  • Sword Of The Stars 2: The Morrigi see themselves as self-appointed protectors of the "younger races", as such their Confederation incorporates many more species than most of the other factions and players of any faction can annex minor races peacefully.
  • Tears to Tiara 2: The Empire was originally one a long time ago. But especially since it changed its name to The Holy Empire it has become The Empire. After Hamil and the Canaanites rebel and forms The Alliance to take on The Holy Empire, he wants to recreate the old Hegemonic Empire centered around Hispania.
  • Total War: Attila: The Sassanid Empire functions this way. Its mechanics encourage the creation and maintenance of independent Puppet States called satrapies instead of conquering and annexing territories directly. The more satrapies the Sassanids get, the more powerful your smaller core regions get, as your satraps come to your limited aid in war and provide bonuses in return for you not controlling them directly. This model is similar to the methods used by the real-life (Sassanid) Persian Empire at the time (see Real Life below).

    Webcomics 
  • Girl Genius: Baron Wulfenbach's empire acts a lot like this. Being a part of the Wulfenbach empire means agreeing to the Pax Transylvania (summarized neatly in it's motto of "Don't Make Me Come Over There"), which means "no wars", "no going Mad Scientist on your subjects (in a way that will permanently harm them)", "no discrimination against constructs" and "turn over all piece of Other technology you find", and beyond that any town, city or domain in the empire is ruled independently. Some level of taxation also seems to be involved, but on the other hand the Baron also builds public projects in return.

    Web Original 
  • An Examination of Extra-Universal Systems of Government: The Universal Empire is the end result of Temujin/Genghis Khan's conquests spreading to include most of Eurasia and parts of Africa. In order to keep this domain intact and stable after his death, Temujin established a system wherein each conquered territory is a constituent nation within the empire, led by its own elected Khan, who are subordinate to a Great Khan who serves for life and is chosen from among their number by the Imperial Court, a legislative body of representatives elected from the constituent nations. Also, aside from some overarching laws (such as taxes and religious freedom), each constituent is allowed total autonomy within their territories.
  • Orion's Arm: Most of the Archailects that rule the Sephirotic Empires prefer to expand by memetic engineering than by messier forms of warfare. The Solar Dominion is one of the more notable, being an Empire ruled by a God-Emperor that has stood for over 8,000 years with its celebration of personal identity and potential.
  • Para Imperium: The setting's name stems from the fact that the Federation of Parahuman Species is more of a Hereditary Republic that built an empire through control of interstellar travel and communications, and immortality-inducing nanotechnology.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The earliest example would be the Delian League of city-states c.477 B.C., making this one Older Than Feudalism. The League was even the Trope Namer, since the position of leadership within the league was referred to as "hegemon". This hegemon, to nobody's surprise, was Athens, to the point where the League was often called the Athenian Empire.
  • The Romans were masters at this, and many client states/vassals had already been so 'romanized' that when the Romans actually moved in to annex them, the people didn't notice (or realize they were, until then, technically still independent).
    • They were so good that the one time it backfired, which resulted in the Social War (as Rome's federates were called socii in Latin), it was because they refused to annex their Italian vassals: the socii had the duty to provide half the legions for any given campaign, but obtained little of the profits and had no say in the external politics, and when the Senate redistributed public land while refusing to grant them Roman citizenship they finally revolted. The Romans managed to win militarily, but quickly passed a law that made all the loyalist Italian communities into Romans and another that allowed people from the excluded communities to obtain Roman citizenship on an individual basis.
    • Augustus reputedly wanted and worked hard at making Rome this, thinking of it as a more practical and cheaper option than holding northern Europe by force.
    • The predilection among many countries today to have imitations of Greco-Roman culture such as "democracy", "senates", and so forth is an example of this. Even the European nations that weren't actually part of the Empire were still affected by it, and that got passed on to their colonies, which became entirely new nations.
  • Rome's enemy Carthage had their own hegemonic empire in Spain and the African coast from Anfa (modern day Casablanca) to Oea (now Tripoli), and the three main campaigns of their second and most decisive conflict (Italy, Spain and Africa) were effectively attempts at breaking each other's hegemony: Hannibal's Italian campaign had an initial limited success but ultimately failed note , while Rome's Spanish and African campaigns successfully destroyed Carthage's empire.
  • The United States of America counts as a contemporary example. Its many interventions in Latin America and the Middle East often result in regime changes of supposedly hostile or opposing leaders (particularly those who nationalize their industries); assassinations of rival world leaders; assisted coups that put the armed forces in power; installing of pro-US dictatorships; and establishing puppet states to service American companies. Many countries in the world utilize the dollar, many American corporations have turned multinational, many American products have turned international (ala McDonalds in Japan, of all things), English is the most spoken language in the world, and even NATO is often seen as a mere extension of US military might as opposed to an international coalition.
    • The United States is often seen as the successor of the English in this regard and differs from the British Empire for the fact that it has so far avoided direct colonization, favoring control over the markets instead. The British Empire initially sought to be a hegemonic empire at the outset but gradually became a military empire upon seeing the competition from other would-be colonial powers (France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Russia, Germany) and the political instability that happened to coincide upon their arrival in a new land. When trouble arose, Britain relied on its vast and powerful Navy, which was essentially unchallenged from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 to the Battle of Jutland just over a century later, and unsurpassed until WWII (when it was surpassed... by their allies, the Americans), small, highly trained, efficient and highly mobile armies and its economic influence. The spread of English as the language of power and money (something which can partially be attributed to the US), the retention of Greenwich Mean Time and the resultant system of time zones and the widespread nature of British culture is a testament to this.
    • The United States was founded with this in mind. After the Revolutionary War, the individual colonies were seen as individual nations that banded together to become an alliance of nations with one entity (The United States Government) being the regulator of all international and inter-state issues. The thought of the United States as a national identity did not gain mainstream support until the fallout of the Civil War (General Robert E. Lee was asked to fight for the Union by Abraham Lincoln the very day Virginia seceded, and Lee sided with his country, which he believed was Virginia; he would have fought for the Union if Lincoln had asked a day earlier). Vestiges of this mentality still exist to this day with the concept of State's Rights (the 10th Amendment to the Constitution explicitly says that if the Constitution does not explicitly reserve a power for itself, than that power is ceded to the State). It's quite common for states to have unique personalities, attitudes, priorities, and interests that are not shared by their neighbors.
  • Third-world countries that were part of European colonial empires qualified as well. For example, much of The Raj consisted of "princely states" led by native rulers (with titles like nawab, nizam, sultan, raja, maharaja, etc.) who became voluntary vassals of The British Empire in exchange for protection and cementation of their local authority.
  • Feudal Japan, as the vassal states were held together more out of reverence for the Emperor (and the hegemonic authority of the Shogunateall three of them) than by any direct control.
  • The Holy Roman Empire during most of its reign, owing to the difficulty in getting most of the elector princes and other lords to back many serious military campaigns after the Crusades.
    • The Hapsburgs and their family, who were largely the Holy Roman Emperors, from 1440AD onwards are an even better example, holding dozens of countries in their hegemony from the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, much of Italy, Central Europe, and at one point controlled BOTH the Spanish and Portuguese Empires as part of the Iberian Union.
  • Vladimir Putin's policy towards the former Soviet republics is essentially creating one of these as a replacement for the USSR. To date it's more or less successful in Central Asia where most of its leaders are happy to support Moscow along with Armenia, Belarus and Moldova. Surprisingly many Balkan and Central European states such as Serbia, Macedonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece are happy to support Russia.
    • The response from the West has been positively frigid, particularly from the US (which is worried) and Britain (which has had a bone or two to pick with the Kremlin following the Litvenenko assassination). Germany and France, on the other hand, seem to want to avoid another Cold War and are more ambivalent.
    • Another aspect of Putin's foreign policy is his warm relationship with several right wing populist politicians, some of which are arguably financed with Russian money and/or extolled in Russian media outlets like RT and Sputnik News.
  • The Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great could be considered the Trope Maker. The Empire was highly decentralised and ruled through viceroys called satraps who governed their administrative units, satrapies, in the name of the Persian emperor. Satraps enjoyed almost total freedom to rule their territories as they pleased and were allowed some degree of private armies, their only responsibility towards the crown was the levying of certain taxes and keeping internal peace and banditry down. Satraps would often belong to the native culture of their region, and have Persian advisers to keep a smooth connection between the local rule and the Emperor's court. The Persians also avoided imposing their own religion or culture on subjects, barring that as followers of Zoroastrianism they banned slavery.note 
  • Australia, in regards to its immediate neighbors. New Zealand often toes whatever line Australia happens to follow; Papua New Guinea used to be a colony (and is often seen as a puppet) of Australia; Malaysia is too weak to do much; and most refugees in Southeast Asia head over to Australia for better opportunities than in their own countries. Indonesia, the fourth most populated nation and the largest archipelago in the world, is more or less The Rival to Australia, but most of its major parties are corrupt and civil services aren't really helpful to those who don't have the money for it (and there are a lot who don't have the money for it). Its military is roughly on par with Australia and it has a much larger population than Australia, but otherwise, there aren't really any other true opponents to Canberra in its immediate vicinity, so many people (in Canberra, of course) consider Australia to be something of a Rising Empire.
  • Indonesia itself was one in form of the Majapahit empire, until it fractured in a civil war and rebuilt by new rulers as independent sultanates, until the European colony came...
    • Even then, the current Indonesia is pretty much Java's sphere of influence because they claimed descent from Majapahit. While officially the country is promoting diversity of its various provinces' culture, the Javanese has so much influence in the governmental, economy, and population ratio that Indonesians often forgot that there's more of Indonesia than the Muslim-majority, Jakarta-dwelling Javanese.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the Aztecs ran one of these, as an alliance of three city-states demanding tribute, rather than obeisance, from those states they had defeated in battle. They rarely left their own governors in place, and didn't tamper with local religions, relying instead on a combination of cultural hegemony and military superiority to ensure continued compliance with the empire's dictates.
    • That said, a large portion of that tribute comprised Human Sacrifices captured during ritual "Flower wars", which bred enough resentment among their client states that Hernan Cortes was able to recruit many of them as allies. A number of these states, such as the Tlaxcala Confederacy and Cempoala, then became Voluntary Vassals of the Spanish Empire upon the destruction of the Aztecs.
  • Imperial China operated on this principle for centuries, and is probably the Trope Codifier. In dynastic Chinese political theory, the Emperor was the 'Son of Heaven' and thus the legitimate sovereign of the entire world; even states that weren't directly under Chinese control were expected to recognize this fact. It only really fell apart when the rising power of the industrial West coincided with a period of relative weakness for China; unsurprisingly, the imperialist Western powers (who were used to thinking of themselves as the best people on the planet) weren't too happy to kow-tow to the monarch of some (in their view) backwards nation. A few humiliating (for the Chinese) wars later, it was getting rather difficult to keep pretending that China was the grandest place on earth; this ultimately led to the downfall of last imperial dynasty, and to the founding of Republic of China, which would eventually be conquered (on the mainland) by the People's Republic of China.
    • And even before that, in China's pre-imperial feudal period, the Zhou Dynasty resembled this for about 600 of its 800 years in power: the king had little real power outside the immediate demesne of the capital, but was nevertheless recognized by the various feudal power-holders as their nominal overlord. During what is often translated as the Period of the Five Hegemons, some lords rose in power sufficiently to informally dominate the other states, without attempting to directly claim the title of overlord. Eventually, though, one of them became powerful enough to conquer the rest of China; this was Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, and whose short-lived Qin Dynasty is actually the root of our word 'China'.
  • Some have accused Germany of being this inside the European Union. Whether this is actually true depends a lot on whom you are talking to. The phrase about Germany being "too big for Europe and too small for the world" relates to the problem of Germany being (in theory) able to dominate most European countries economically and (at least in the past) militarily but unable to do really go toe to toe with major empires outside of Europe. Interestingly, some European leaders have actually called for Germany to act more like this (if only to carry the banner of an eventual United Europe), making them in essence voluntary vassals.
  • While the Mongol Empire is well-known for its military expansion, it made use of its fearsome reputation to make their conquest a lot easier. They spread tales how they burned whole cities to the ground, killed anyone who resisted and enslaved the survivors, but also made a point about sparing anyone who surrendered without a fight. This was preferable since needless brutality would make the resistance a lot more harder to beat. Those who became willing vassals such as the Armenians enjoyed protection by the Mongols and had their religions respected as part of their tolerance policy where Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and other faiths co-existed without persecution or taxation (something unheard of at the time) and in exchange, they'd perform key administrative roles of their empire since their overlords weren't exactly fit for it. They also ensured such safety and security in their lands that a popular saying goes "a virgin carrying a pot of gold on her head could go unmolested across one border of the empire to the other".
  • The First Mexican Empire spread from what is now Southern US to Panama, however its actual influence in many of this areas was dim to say the least. In Central America for example was almost non-existent and when the Empire fall the Central American province became the Federal Republic of Central America that, again, was more of a loose federal league than anything else. It did not stop what was the Grand Colombia to take away Bocas del Toro to Costa Rica, much to Costa Rica's dismay. Its Constitution based on the American Constitution was basically symbolic and secessionist movements alongside a divisive Civil War that mostly affected Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (the centers of power for different reasons) made it all worst. Costa Rica as the most southern part of the Federation was probably the most indiferent to the federal government, it did no took part in the civil war and even declared itself to be separated from the Federation (although it did not declared actual independence) until the civil war was over, basically saying "we would go our way until you put yourself together". The war did was finished, and Costa Rica did re-entered but the damage was done and by 1848 the Federation just collapsed in what are now the republics of Central America. Not that some failed attempts to re-created it (sometimes by military force) havn't existed since.

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